Children are carrying more than the traditional notebooks, pencils and papers in their backpacks these days. As education moves into the 21st century, schools are embracing new ways of learning through technologies such as computers, tablets and other devices. These developments have sparked debate about exposing children to added screen time in the classroom. Isn’t “screen time” supposed to be “bad?” Do these new approaches to learning help or hurt our students?
It’s first important to note that not all screen time is created equal, and parents need to make a distinction between academic versus recreational screen time. The time children spend on a tablet or laptop for educational purposes – for example, developing reading and math skills for younger children, online research and writing support for older children – is generally viewed as value-added time.
Where we want to moderate the time and use of screens is for purely recreational purposes – playing video games or spending hours in front of a television – as this can be detrimental to learning. According to an article in Psychology Today, children who spend less time in front of a screen during their early childhood years tend to do better in school and engage in schoolwork in later elementary school.
Excessive screen time can cause the brain to process information less efficiently and promote abnormal spontaneous brain activity associated with poor task performance. For children younger than three years old, the amount of television they view has been associated with problems in reading recognition, reading comprehension, and the ability to remember sequences at age six. This data supports the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement that discourages electronic media use in children under the age of two years.
Fast forward to high school: teens who watch three or more hours of television per day are at an especially high risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes about school, poor grades, and academic failure.
In opposition to the dangers that too much recreational screen time may pose to kids, technology in the classroom can enhance learning. According to studies discussed in Education.com, technology in the classroom has shown improved test scores and achievement among students. Furthermore, multimedia technology can be used to improve students’ information gathering and writing skills. Technology can also be used to enhance reading comprehension by providing pronunciation, definition, and context to augment a student’s vocabulary. Used correctly, technology can help to engage and motivate students with their work, and allow them to learn at their own pace.
When parents ask me for advice about kids and screen time, here are the key points I try to leave with them: